Saturday, March 07, 2015

Selma is Now

I am not even going to attempt to summarize this speech, given with the Selma bridge behind him, on the 50th anniversary of that definitive march.  I believe it will be considered one of the best speeches in recent US history, perhaps in all our history.  Here is a transcript.

 And it is certainly about our history.  It is vintage Barack, plus some JFK and not a little of Lincoln.  Quoting Walt Whitman,  Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Robert Kennedy, the same passage of Isiah that President Kennedy once quoted.  A pointed section in which he defines what loving America means, what American exceptionalism is, in terms that destroy all the "feeble" criticism.  Notice how many times he uses the word "imagination," including moral imagination.  The speech is about equal rights but more.  It is about how Americans march for change.  Given recent posts here, I could not help think about the climate movement, and the need for expressing moral imagination in that.  The moral imperative of the future, of life on earth as we know it.

I also thought about voices who can express our history and identity to all of us.  The only other such voice in public life who can really talk about American history I could think of was Bill Clinton, and he couldn't do this.  Certainly no known presidential candidate.  This was a moment.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Climate Crisis Comes Home

The sea level is rising faster in Humboldt Bay than anywhere else in California. The main route of 101 will face inundation in several places--including the strip that links Arcata and Eureka.  But there is no money to do what's necessary to make this corridor viable by raising or re-routing the roadway.  "Today there's not enough money to maintain what we already have," a Caltrans official said.

Those are a few highlights from two articles in this week's Mad River Union, covering Caltrans and Arcata officials Local Coastal Plan efforts to addresses some of the consequences of the climate crisis.

Until now, the mapping of low-lying areas has been motivated by preparing for possible earthquakes and tsunamis.  We see "Tsunami Zone" signs everywhere, including in the Arcata bottoms, miles of prime agricultural land that begins at the coast and ends up with housing developments.  That's just one low lying area bordering the sea or the bay.

So there are many vulnerable places, and it only takes one small entry point to flood acres of land.  Besides the Arcata-Eureka corridor, Caltrans identified three other highway sites that are especially vulnerable.  The Arcata Marsh with its local and migratory birds and its innovative sewage treatment system is also threatened, along with power generation and transmission, gas and water lines, as well as transportation.

Apart from the lack of funds to protect from some of these anticipated catastrophes,  there are the unprecedented solutions that involve competing bureaucracies on multiple levels of government.

But officials who gathered at a recent joint meeting on environmental problems and heard detailed analyses of coming challenges also heard a warning to get started on all this now or "The North Coast will find itself in tough competition for resources with other coastal regions," particularly the big and politically powerful ones like the Bay Area, Long Beach and San Diego.

It's all an indication of what many communities are facing.  But it's more specifically what we are facing, here at home.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Climate Crisis: Future and Past

My previous post included reference to the recent predictions of a sudden spurt of global heating in the near future, as heat is released by ocean waters where it has been stored, temporarily slowing the rate of atmospheric heating caused by greenhouse gases.

This is a more comprehensive article on that subject.  John Upton writes:

Humanity is about to experience a historically unprecedented spike in temperatures. That’s the ominous conclusion of a vast and growing body of research that links sweeping Pacific Ocean cycles with rates of warming at the planet’s surface — warming rates that could affect how communities and nations respond to threats posed by climate change.

This is a very near future prediction. The research seems to indicate that this spurt could begin at any time but probably within the next five years.

The article reviews the research, some connections between higher temps and the climate crisis ("A suite of modeling studies have independently concluded that heat waves that ravaged Australia in 2013 would have been almost impossible without the warming effects of our greenhouse gas pollution.")

  It also briefly reviews preparations being made (and not made) to deal with the effects, especially hotter temps for longer periods. “The public health community is starting to talk a lot more about climate generally,” Georgetown University Law Center adjunct professor Sara Pollock Hoverter, who specializes in climate change and climate resilience, said. “I think that all of us need to do more.”

The article also discusses whether new doses of extreme weather will finally lead to action, with a little more detail--but no firmer conclusion (i.e. from probably to maybe) than the piece I linked last time.  You know what I'm going to say: it's crucial to always talk about both causes and consequences, or we may yield to panicky attempts to deal with effects and ignore addressing the causes.

Now--about the past.  In a previous post, I referenced a 1958 Bell Labs TV docu that warned of a possible climate crisis, and President Johnson's mention of the possibility in 1965.  Lately I've stumbled on a more precise reference from the 1970s--at a very crucial and unlikely time.

The subject is mentioned in Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon by Theodore H. White (whose "Making of the President" series of campaign books set a new standard.)  The book begins with Nixon's final days as President, as proof of his criminal behavior became clear, his support vanished layer by layer, and his closest aides tried to guide him towards resignation.

 White pauses in relating the dramatic developments at the Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill (the House impeachment investigation) and in the White House to note the ongoing issues being engaged within the government that had nothing to do with the presidential crisis. One was this: the NOAA administrator Robert M. White was trying to impress on other officials the concern of scientists that the 1974 Midwest drought might be a harbinger of major climate change in the future.

Ten pages later, at the moment Nixon was making his televised farewell to the White House staff, White brings the subject up again.  Weather scientists were 
preparing for a meeting that afternoon "with other executive agencies, trying to devise some plan that might bring the long-range problems of climate change to the attention of the New President."

But--White quickly adds--"...the next President, or the next few Presidents, might have a fifty-year span in which to make ready this civilization for the changes that climate might force on mankind..." so they paused to watch Nixon's farewell.

This book was published in 1975, yet White considered the concern serious enough to write about it in this context.  This excerpt tells us of course that such concerns existed at a high level in 1974.  But it also suggests one reason nothing much was done: there's always some drama of the moment to absorb attention.

That has remained true for forty years.  By the time that fiftieth year comes, those civilization-challenging changes will very likely be impossible to ignore.  And the world will be changed, for considerably longer than 50 more years.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Truth of Consequences

The weather may be exceptionally frigid in New York or surrealistically pleasant in California, but the consequences of the climate crisis are becoming starkly clear.

New York City peers through the snow at the future, as reported in Scientific American:

Heat waves and floods caused by climate change could mean disaster for the Big Apple's five boroughs by the end of the century, with sea levels now predicted by a new report to climb by as much as 6 feet by 2100.

According to the New York City Panel on Climate Change, an independent body composed of climate scientists, New York could see a 6-foot increase under a worst-case scenario that has been revised from previous estimates that 2 to 4 feet would be the maximum rise.

The report also marked a new estimate for how hot it could become within the next 80 or so years, with the panel projecting a temperature increase as much as 8.8 degrees Fahrenheit and a tripling in the frequency of heat waves by the 2080s in the city.

As for the current cold, yes--the climate crisis, the warming Arctic, is definitely involved.  So: colder, snowier winters AND way hotter summers.  Meanwhile, records reveal that sea levels north of New York rose faster in a two year period (2009-11) than ever in history.

California is acutely aware that despite (or because of) the winter sunshine, the state is in deep drought.  A mid-February report suggests this is the wave of the future.  As the SF Chronicle reported:

The Southwest, including California, along with the Great Plains states, will endure long-lasting “megadroughts” in the second half of this century, worse by far than anything seen in the past 1,000 years, a team of climate experts said Thursday. The driving force behind the devastating droughts? Human-induced global warming, the team reported.

Then as the month ended, a report from Stanford piled it on.  The San Jose Mercury News:

Human-caused climate change is increasing drought risk in California -- boosting the odds that our current crisis will become a fixture of the future, according to a major report Stanford scientists released Monday. The finding comes as cities across the Bay Area wrap up the warmest three-month stretch of winter on record.

Moreover, there are signs that the recent slowdown in the rate of actual heating
as predicted could be coming to an end--and we'll get compensating and dramatic spikes in temperatures.  This could accelerate concern--or panic--at least concerning effects.

What happens when you are not prepared for the consequences of global heating--when you don't even see them as consequences?  Another report points to Syria, as described by Salon:

A major new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examines climate change as a contributing factor to the 2011 uprising in Syria, connecting the dots from our greenhouse gas emissions to an international conflict that’s killed 200,000 and displaced millions.

It's not the first such study to reach those conclusions, and not the first region of the world with warfare ascribed in part to the effects of climate change, though most reporting ignores this.  But the Pentagon and others are taking it all pretty seriously.  It is already in many places what Michael Specter in the New Yorker describes as "A Thirsty, Violent World."

Here in the states at least some people are asking the questions that are likely to become louder and louder, as in this article that asks "Are We Even Ready for a Megadrought?"

Are we ready for the effects?  Sooner or later, the public outcry will begin.  Is anybody ready to link the effects to the causes, so the future won't be even worse?  On the megadrought, for instance, one of the authors of the previously noted report emphasized: "And that's a really important point - we're not necessarily locked into these high levels of mega-drought risk if we take actions to slow the effects of rising greenhouse gases on global temperatures."

He's not saying drought won't happen--just that it could be less than the worst case scenario, particularly further out in time, if we deal with the causes of global heating.  But the connection has to be made--we must always be talking about both causes and consequences.

Meanwhile, mega-funded denialist nonsense continues in Washington, abetted by our lamestream media (yes, Sarah, I'm with you there, though for entirely different reasons.)  John Podesta left the White House with a hopeful statement about the prospects for action on the causes of the climate crisis.  I hope he's right, but until the public dialogue links the causes and consequences, we're unlikely to address the climate crisis intelligently and with the required focus.